By Rosa Cho, Writer & Researcher
“I will never vote and I don’t think you should either.” That is how Russell Brand
—yes, Katy Perry’s ex-husband—launched his guest editorship with the New Statesman
, a British political and cultural magazine. He also advised enacting a utopian revolution to uproot the current social-political-economic system responsible for environmental destruction, growing wealth gap and global exploitation of the underclass. His call to action (and inaction) drew slack-jawed reactions from journalists
and public figures
. The piece
even earned him an explain-yourself-style interview
with veteran BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman, known for sharp, no-nonsense interrogations of politicians.
Publicity stunt or not, Brand is reminding us all that we have a choice: to vote or not to vote. Democracy in theory and in practice is still a nascent exercise in human history. The vast majority of the world’s population has been deprived of political power or voice. They have lived under distant kings and ruling classes, feudal lords and autocrats who controlled wealth and used their power to run villages, countries, and empires as they saw fit. Participatory democracy is a worthwhile pursuit for which many of our ancestors fought hard—simply to cast a ballot on Election Day, for example. Women and men marched and protested in order to vote. Some were beaten, arrested or put on trial, all in their struggle to lift their voices. Chances are, someone you know has a great, great, great-grandmother who was arrested for marching for women’s suffrage. Your own ancestors’ right to vote might have been denied. Civic engagement, political process, citizens’ right to be heard—these are important elements of what true democracies are supposed to represent.
Are we practicing the democracy for which they fought? In light of Citizens United
, big corporations and big-moneyed donors can spend as much as they like on political campaigns and enjoy First Amendment rights. When people who do not hold everyone’s interests become your political proxy, a lot of things can go awry. A group of male governors, for example, from Wisconsin
, Florida and Texas
can sign bills designed to enforce an invasive, transvaginal, medically-unnecessary ultrasound when a woman is considering abortion. Performed against the woman’s will or professional medical opinion, these measures have been called “state-sanctioned rape
” by some abortion rights groups.
The Texas legislature can make already arduous voting process even more onerous by instituting a new voter law that requires people to show an identification that has a “substantially similar” name. Sounds simple enough, until you consider that women commonly change their names . Maiden names get hyphenated with married names or become middle names or get dropped altogether. Under this new law, the ability to vote depends on whether an election official decides that a piece of ID does or does not have a “substantially similar” name as the one on the voter registration form. A Texas judge who could not vote in her own courthouse summed up the absurdity: “What I have used for voter registration and identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote. This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting.”
Now imagine transgender women and men trying to vote in states with these types of strict voter ID laws. Or insecurely-housed people who are homeless, living in shelters, or doubling-up with friends? How easy would it be for low-wage, hourly workers to take time off to vote, as long wait times are all too common? Professionals work in environments where that kind of flexibility is generally built in, but that is not the reality for many workers in low-wage industries. How hard is it for those living in economically precarious situations to successfully complete their civic duty on Election Day?
As with David and Goliath, big-money politicians have an easier time running for and winning office, and shaping policies that support their big-money interests; regular citizens have less resources, access and opportunity to make an equal impact. And yet, as Malcolm Gladwell's new his book highlights, David was not, it turns out, all that powerless. Underdogs—e.g., David, everyday voters—can win. We know that electocracy is not democracy, as Iraq has painfully shown us. However, voting and becoming part of political and decision-making processes is part of everyday people exercising power. We simply cannot and should not passively let our rights as citizens erode. Too many people have sweated, sacrificed and shed blood for this important civil and political right. So, please vote today. No ifs. No ands. No buts. Vote.